Airport donors flock to Reed

Outgoing Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has refused to endorse anyone to be her successor in this year’s race.

But many of her old financial supporters at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport appear to be backing former state senator Kasim Reed. Reed managed Franklin’s two successful campaigns to run Georgia’s largest city and he was a leader of her transition team when she first took office.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found in recent mayoral campaign reports that almost one of every five dollars given to Reed from large donors came from businesses or individuals with a financial stake at the airport.

Such donors — concessionaires, engineering firms, parking companies and limousine companies — were a significant source of cash for Franklin’s campaigns.

The AJC looked at donors who gave $1,000 or more in the most recent campaign period, from the beginning of July to the end of September. The AJC found that Reed raised more than $202,000 from these large donors — more than 45 percent of all the money he raised this period.

Money from airport companies and individuals accounted for at least $36,350 — roughly 18 percent of Reed’s pool of large donors.

The estimate is conservative and only includes companies and business people with clear, direct connections to the airport or family ties to those businesses. More airport money came in smaller donations as well.

Donors included officials from Jackmont Hospitality, a large airport concessionaire co-founded by the late Mayor Maynard Jackson. Officials at the company did not return calls for comment. Other donors included HNTB, an engineering firm that has handled major projects at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Two other leading candidates, Lisa Borders, the City Council president, and Mary Norwood, a longtime council member, also received airport-connected donations, but much less.

During the most recent three-month period Borders brought in $20,150 — about 8.5 percent of her large donor pool. Norwood’s airport donors gave her $11,300 this period, about 8 percent of her large donor total. A fourth candidate, attorney Jesse Spikes, received no large donations from people or businesses affiliated with the airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, is by far the largest economic engine in metro Atlanta, funneling tens of billions into the local economy. The airport and airport-related businesses employ an estimated 56,000 people. The city of Atlanta controls the airport and the mayor and the council set airport budgets and policy.

Reed spokesman Reese McCranie said airport businesses donated to his campaign because of Reed’s plans to expand the airport’s cargo operations, not because of his ties to Franklin.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with Mayor Franklin,” McCranie said. “It’s more about his message and his platform about job creation, not a loose connection between Kasim and the mayor.”

As recently as Tuesday, Franklin would not comment when asked whom she supported. Franklin’s spokeswoman Beverly Isom declined to comment on the airport donations or the mayoral race.

Campaign staffers for Reed’s opponents were quick with criticism. Roman Levit, campaign manager for Norwood, said the airport donations show Norwood is much less dependent on large company donations than Reed. Asked about Franklin and Reed, Levit said Franklin “has made her views fairly well known on several occasions and I’ll just leave it at that.”

Liz Flowers, spokeswoman for Borders, said Reed’s large donations from airport businesses and people tied to those businesses “should be a red flag for voters.”

Harvey Newman, an expert on local politics and a professor at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, said airport donors probably have determined that Reed “is the likely heir to the incumbent and that is why the dollars are flowing in that direction.”

Newman said that whether Franklin is openly stumping for Reed or not, airport businesses may have gotten the message.

“Everybody who would be writing those checks would know about his relationship with her,” he said.